From hepcats to hipsters
We’ve all heard of them. Several shops in Downtown Charlottesville cater to their every sepia-toned whim. Even I, the shameless writer, have been deemed one since early on in high school — it’s probably my gargantuan Buddy Holly glasses or my aversion to cultural trends. But I digress.
The hipster actually first pounced on the pulse of underground culture in the 1940s when jazz aficionados and the rise of off-kilter beat poetry were all the rage in certain social circles. These “hepcats” were also known to experiment with cannabis, which influenced their psychedelic progeny two decades later. Bing Crosby, who started to enjoy success in the early ‘40s, was referred to as being “the first hip white person born in the United States.” Ah, those were the days.
Fast forward nearly 75 years and the definition of hipsters has been reinvented in favor of a Starbucks-toting, MacBook-flaunting aspiring blogger with a penchant for obscure tunes and the quizzical wardrobe choices of a conflicted lumberjack. It’s a bitter caricature that’s been lampooned ad infinitum, but Urban Outfitters’ design philosophy and sizable catalog attests to its staying power.
This subculture also fumbles with a serious disconnect in the space-time continuum. Despite their affinity for Apple products, most toy with boxy Polaroids and typewriters, as well as the delicious sounds of vinyl records. It’s almost like hipsters are longing for the defining characteristics of wartime America. These trends have bled over into films like the coming-of-age smash hit The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the beloved anti-rom-com romantic comedy(500) Days of Summer and the subtly named I Am Not A Hipster, which played to a small crowd during the Virginia Film Festival this past October.
This isn’t a bad thing by any means. All of the movies I’ve listed are excellent in their own right and their portrayals of this new batch of hepcats are earnest and enjoyable. But their success demonstrates a perverse trend: being a hipster isn’t just for the hipsters anymore.
Theatric pop-rock act fun. was named Best New Artist at this year’s Grammy Awards, and the neofolksy Bon Iver earned the same honor during the previous year’s ceremony. In both of these cases, the award is a misnomer, as both bands were formed years before their recognition and had previously gained critical traction in their respective circles before being recognized by mainstream music lovers. All it takes is one song, a persistent trigger finger on a radio turntable and a million record sales to turn that relative obscurity around.
Ask a hipster about this, and they’re more pissed than proud. For a subculture that prides itself on staying chronologically backwards, the future fame and mainstream status of their private joys find them hopping on to some band further buried in audience darkness.
But with Bon Iver being featured on Kanye West’s last album and shows like IFC’s Portlandia gaining steam, I don’t see a sign of hipster culture slowing down. Let’s just hope I can avoid buying new glasses just because everyone else is wearing the same kind.